In Boating's Wake, Dollars

March 06, 1995|By Alec Matthew Klein | Alec Matthew Klein,Sun Staff Writer

So much for the stereotype of the martini-sipping, sun-soaking, nap-seeking pleasure boaters.

They are much more indulgent than that -- spending $1.01 billion annually, according to a University of Maryland study released today on the state recreational boating industry.

"It's not just about sailboats and powerboats and 'aren't they nice,' " said Beth Kahr, director of the Marine Trades Association of Maryland.

"This [study] will help develop a clearer picture of the industry."

The findings, scheduled to be unveiled in Annapolis at the 17th Annual Maryland Marine Trades Conference, show that the industry creates over 18,000 full-time jobs, translating into $574 million in annual wages and income, which in turn generates $4.3 million in state and local tax revenue.

The economic impact on Maryland, after subtracting money that leaks out of state, amounts to more than $980 million, the study says. Boating and fishing account for about 15 percent of the state's tourism pie, according to the most recent figures compiled by the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development.

"I don't think that's surprising at all," said John Burgreen, owner of Annapolis Yacht Sales, echoing other industry leaders.

"The marine industry is delivering a tremendous amount of dollars to the economy."

The study, believed to be the first comprehensive look at Maryland recreational boating expenditures, did raise a few eyebrows among state officials. "Frankly, we were both surprised and delighted," said Bruce A. Gilmore, director of the Boating Administration in the Department of Natural Resources.

Heretofore, the Boating Administration had estimated that pleasure boating contributed $750 million to the Maryland economy. The agency is not expected to dispute the higher figures in the yearlong study for one compelling reason -- it helped fund the $25,000 joint venture with the Marine Trades Association and the University of Maryland's Sea Grant Extension Program.

Despite the heady numbers, Maryland is not the leading U.S. recreational boating mecca; based on registered boats, the state falls somewhere in the middle of the pack, according to the Boating Administration.

Even so, Maryland's numbers could have been higher. The study, based on 190,436 registered boats in Maryland in 1993, did not include the economic impact of charter boats, or out-of-state vessels passing through.

"Basically, what we're saying is, 'Look, this is conservative,' " said study coordinator Douglas W. Lipton, director of the Sea Grant Extension Program.

"I don't think a billion dollars tells you very much at all," he said. "But it does tell you there's a lot of linkages in the economy. In other words, it's not just a bunch of marinas. There's a lot of industries that supply the marinas in the state that employ a lot of people."

The study also indicates that the industry may have weathered the recession. Nationwide, boat sales sank from $18 billion in 1988 to $10.3 billion in 1992; a year later, sales increased to $11.3 billion, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

For Maryland, the industry means more than sheer dollars. "This boating industry relies on the Chesapeake Bay and clean water," Mr. Lipton said.

"The point is, it's worth having a clean bay."

The latest study also gives industry leaders a lobbying weapon: The average boater contributes $5,136 a year to the state economy. Overall, the study shows, they spend $438 million for such items as boat fuel, food, lodging, fishing supplies, clothing and equipment; $428 million on boating-related expenditures, such as slip fees and maintenance; and $144.5 million to buy new or used boats.

"There's a real ripple effect even before you get to the water," said Mitch Nathanson, president of Annapolis-based Coastal Properties Management Inc., which owns and operates marinas throughout Maryland.

In restaurant meals alone, boaters spend $89 million annually, which in turn creates 2,648 full-time jobs. Said Mr. Lipton, "It's not just people at seafood restaurants impacted by this."

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